NFR Event by Event

It’s official now. Bareback riding has a dynasty.

Tim O’Connell put together a solid 87-point ride in the 10th and final go-round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. That was enough to split fifth- and sixth-place money, but more important, it gave O’Connell a tie with Steven Dent for first in the average.

That was worth another $60,923, locking up a third straight world championship for the cowboy from Zwingle, Iowa. O’Connell finished the season with $319,801. Dent was second at $254,744.

“I knew when I nodded my head that I was going to leave it all out there,” O’Connell said of his final ride. “It means a lot. We duked it out, and it took 10 rounds to finish this fight. God willing, I was the victor.

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Tim O’Connell Round 8 photo credit Tom Donoghue

O’Connell and Dent went 10-for-10 in the average and finished with 849.5 total points.

In barrel racing, the outcome was set after Friday night’s ninth go-round. That’s because Hailey Kinsel took all the drama out by winning for the third time in four nights, putting her too far ahead Saturday to be caught by any of the other 14 contestants.

Kinsel made a huge run at last year’s Wrangler NFR, nearly getting the gold buckle, but she fell just short to Nellie Miller. On her second trip to Vegas, she more than got the job done, with $157,865 in Wrangler NFR earnings and a massive $350,700 for the season, far outpacing second-place Jessica Routier ($251,704).

“The best moment is definitely walking on that stage,” Kinsel said, alluding to the final moment on the dirt of the Wrangler NFR, when the 24-year-old accepted her first gold buckle. “Standing in the alley before you go on stage, and you realize you’re the only barrel racer down there. You realize nobody else beat you. It’s definitely a big wow.”

Sage Kimzey was all but uncatchable in bull riding heading into Saturday night, but if a lot of craziness happened, Chase Dougherty could have caught Kimzey. No such craziness occurred, and Kimzey won his fifth straight world title.

Still, Kimzey made sure to finish with a bang, posting a 93-point ride to win the first-place go-round check, take fifth in the average and finish the year with a whopping $415,263.

“That was a lot of hard work,” Kimzey said of his monster season. “This one means a lot!”

Eight steer wrestlers were still mathematically alive for the gold buckle Saturday night, but Tyler Waguespack ended the evening where he started it – alone in first. Waguespack made a clean 5.1-second run, which was out of the go-round money but more than adequate to secure first place in the average and $67,269, with a total time of 44.5 seconds on 10 head.

That lifted Waguespack’s season earnings to $260,013 – including $180,429 over the last 10 nights alone – as he won his second world crown in three years. Bridger Chambers finished second in the world standings at $216,762.

Though Waguespack was first in the world entering the final round, he still had butterflies.

“It’s still tons of pressure sitting on you, competing against the best in the world,” Waguespack said, noting his effort in the final round didn’t cash a check, but was just what he needed. “Nothing flashy, just needed to stop the clock.”

Similar to steer wrestling, team ropers Clay Smith and Paul Eaves entered the final round of the Wrangler NFR in first place and stayed there. Header Smith and Heeler Eaves clocked 4.4 seconds to earn third-place go-round cash of $15,654 apiece, and secured third place in the average for another $43,154 each.

The duo’s total NFR earnings topped out at $174,577 each, giving both $289,921 for the season and the header and heeler gold buckles for the first time in their respective careers. Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira made a nice charge the past 10 days to take second in the world, with Driggers at $272,464 as a header and Nogueira at $273,448 as a heeler.

Not surprisingly, Smith’s phone was blowing up after the twosome clinched the title.

“My wife was the first person I talked to. She was screaming!” Smith said as he clutched his gold buckle. “It was awesome. We’re thankful to be here, and we had a blessed week.”

Added Eaves: “We were just trying to do the same thing we’ve done all week. Just trying not to think too much.”

Now they’ve got some down time to think about being world champions.

“Winning the world is a dream come true. It was just our time,” Smith said.


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Wade Sundell Round 7 photo credit Tom Donoghue

In saddle broncs, four riders were still alive Saturday night, and Wade Sundell was the sole survivor. Sundell had an 87.5-point ride to earn a fourth-place go-round check, then added $54,577 for taking second in the average. That put Sundell at $280,636 for the year, about $18,000 ahead of second-place Rusty Wright and third-place Zeke Thurston.


“I’ve been working for this for a long time,” said the 33-year-old Sundell, an eight-time Wrangler NFR qualifier. “It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened in my rodeo career.”

And it puts a very nice bow on a difficult year, in which Sundell’s house burned down while he was on the road. He never let that get him down, though.

“Life will do that to you, but keep your chin up. There’s no sense in being a Sally,” Sundell said, adding he knows what he’ll do with a chunk of the $177,327 he won the past 10 days. “Rebuild the house!”

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